Last year I did try to write reviews of the books I read, but honestly...it took too much time and effort so this year I'm just going to list them. If one is really fabulous I might write a post about it...or not :)
First on the list is last one read...
Knitting by Anne Bartlett
The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs
Villa Fortuna by Geoffrey Luck
Moral Hazard by Kate Jennings
I've run out of puff doing these book reviews, so from now I'm just going to list the ones I've read. If I actually finished it (and therefore it's here) you can be sure I found it at least redeeming enough to persevere with!
27 October: Body Surfing by Anita Shreve - I hadn't read one of her books for ages and this was enjoyable. Not quite as predictable as I thought it was going to be.
21 October: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown - I don't care what anyone says, this man's research is phenomenal. Enjoyed and read in two days.
18 October: How to Break your own Heart by Maggie Alderson - loved the characters...she's so good at bringing people to life. Enjoyed and read quickly.
23 October: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. I was a bit disappointed with this to be honest. Difficult to feel too much sympathy for any of the characters I think was the crux of the problem. It probably wouldn't be high on my list of recommendations although it's redeemed by quirk value.
This is where I started....but it all got a bit too much!
I used to read an enormous amount of books. Maybe 2-3 per week, and this while I was doing a full-time job. Mind you, I mostly lived alone so I guess it was easy. Until blogging began. Now I'm struggling. So in an attempt to get the reading mojo back, I wrote this post and on my sidebar you'll find a list...the last book I read, the one I'm reading at the moment (or perhaps more than one!), and the one I'm thinking about reading. This list is starting on 13 July 2010, and I'll update as I go. Wish me luck. Last read book is first on the list..
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
I'm finding it a bit difficult to keep up with the 'reviews' of books I've read, so I'm just going to give a very abridged commentary from now on.
In a very unlikely event, I actually saw this movie (on DVD) before I read the book. So I knew how it ended...or so I thought. Having seen the movie which was pretty true to the book, apart from the ending, I didn't get as emotional as I often do when reading heart wrenching stuff. But expecting to read a completely different ending I was gutted when I got to the end of this book. I haven't read much Jodi Picoult, but what I have has been good. I'll be reading more..
love meter: 7.5/10
She may not Leave by Fay Weldon
I am a fan of Fay Weldon. I love her black humour and her (almost) completely batty characters. Not quite insane, but perhaps slightly more than eccentric. Hattie and Martyn have a six month old daughter Kitty, and Hattie is champing at the bit to get back to work at her publishing job. Enter Agnieszka, a mousy Polish au pair who comes on recommendation, but later the circumstances of her leaving her last job come back to bite Hattie on the bum...or do they? This is a story of motherhood essentially, and the modern dilemma of to work/or not to work, and it's told through the eyes of Hattie's very modern yet at the same time old-fashioned grandmother Frances (who has been married several times and whose current husband is in gaol in Holland). She has a great knack for story telling. There's a twist at the end, which was all the more satisfying because I didn't pick it!
Did I enjoy it: yes, quite a lot
Would I recommend it: yes, especially for mums...young, old and anywhere in between...we've all wrestled with these issues
On the book love meter: 7/10
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
I read this book in two short sessions. A very easy read. This book is 'billed' as a book for young adults but I can see its appeal for pretty much any age. Its main device is the retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story told by Gemma, a Polish woman who dies in old age at the beginning of the book. Gemma's grand-daughter Becca promises her grandmother as she is dying to find the castle in the woods; the castle Gemma was princess of....the story of Briar Rose. The promise takes Becca to Poland and the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, told by Josef...the man who actually knew Gemma's story; a story she never told her family, or perhaps couldn't bear to remember. Like all holocaust stories it's sad and tragic, and it's hard to read of the unbearable suffering depicted here. There were many tears. I found the telling of Gemma's Briar Rose to be much more compelling than the sanitised version we're all so familiar with.
Did I enjoy it: yes, very much
Would I recommend it: yes, especially for younger readers who have no idea of the Holocaust (and I'm surprised by how many there are)
On the book love meter: 7/10
The Man who Left too Soon: the biography of Stieg Larsson by Barry Forshaw
This is much less a biography than an abridged retelling of the three Millenium trilogy novels written by Stieg Larsson; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire; The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. I've read all three of these very lengthy books and thoroughly enjoyed them, so I was quite happy to revisit them in this format. And the book is also a critique of Larsson's style, by a number of other crime authors, most who like his books and only a couple who don't. The one thing they have in common is that Larsson's books could do with some good editing. He died having delivered all three manuscripts to the publisher but without seeing them published himself. This may add to some of the popularity of the books (the author who 'left too soon') but they nonetheless do stand alone as good, indeed innovate crime writing....a genre that may be criticised for being a little formulaic.
Did I enjoy it: yes, I liked revisiting the novels
Would I recommend it: Only if you've read the novels because all the important bits a given away in this book...spoilers galore!
On the book love meter: 6/10, but I'd give the novels themselves a much higher score
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
You know, as a book lover and a reader all my life, I was a bit ashamed to admit that I'd never read this book. So I was really glad when someone suggested if for our book club. But to be honest, I didn't like it and I suspect its 'classic' status has more to do with when it was written and about the subject matter than its merits as literature...and I know there will be people who will howl me down for that! But I think its notoriety (its use of language, sex and teenage bravado in 1945 when it was first published) no doubt pushed a lot of buttons. The fact that its been banned several times and Salinger himself was a reclusive figure probably adds to its cachet. But it wasn't for me. Perhaps it's because I've had my share of self centred teenagers (noting that no doubt I was one too!) that I have almost no sympathy for Holden Caulfield. I just wanted to shake him most of the time, although...and I guess this is Salinger's skill, there were moments when I wanted to hug him and let him cry it all out, and tell him everything would be ok as well.
To be honest, I was mostly bored by it but I did want to finish it..if only to say that I've read it! Thank goodness it wasn't a long read, even if not an easy or entertaining one.
Did I enjoy it? No, not really.
Would I recommend it? As a book to tick off that you've read...I guess so.
On the book love meter: 3/10 (I may remember it but I won't want to pick it up again)
Renato's Luck by Jeff Shapiro
The back cover describes this book as 'combining the humour and pathos of Life is Beautiful and the sensual abandon of Like Water for Chocolate...'. Sorry, but it falls way short of these two. It's a nice story, set in a wonderful Italian village destined to be submerged when a new dam is built. Renato is the waterworks man of the town, orphaned at 17, married to the love of his life, up until this point extremely happy but now disenchanted...having lost his taste for life. He's a dreamer...literally...and when he dreams of the Pope's hand reaching out to him he knows he must go to Rome to get his taste back. Along with the requests of most of the town. It's clearly meant to be an 'internal journey' but I find Renato's character likeable but not nearly interesting enough and the lessons are a bit cliched for me. There are a lot of Italian (and other) caricatures in this book, as though the author who lived in Italy wants to capture everyone he's ever met in these pages.
Did I enjoy it? It was ok.
Would I recommend it? If you want to read a book set in Italy, I guess so. I wouldn't say don't read it at least
On the book love meter: 4/10
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
I loved this book and read it very quickly. A novel based on the real life stories of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot in Lyme Regis in the 1800s. It is a story of friendship, feminism and fossils. Mary is an uneducated and extremely poor young girl when we meet her on the beach at Lyme Regis. Elizabeth, from a reasonably well-to-do London family is now living in Lyme Regis with her two sisters after their brother marries and inherits the family home. Mary, taught be her father, as a young teenager discovers the fossil of the first complete icythyosoraus and later a plesiosoraus. These were the days before Darwin's theory of evolution took root and the god fearing people of Lyme Regis were highly suspicious of Mary's 'monsters'. Elizabeth, who discovers a love of fossil hunting herself through her friendship with the 20 year younger Mary, later fights for the recognition Mary deserves in the male dominated scientific community. I wasn't aware of Mary Anning and her place in history, nor Elizabeth's, so this book was a welcome addition to my knowledge. As a novel, it works. It's spellbinding in its description of places, people and 'politics'.
Did I enjoy it? Very much
Would I recommend it? Yes, and not just to women, although it's a story of female friendship.
On the book love meter: 9/10
The Shoe Queen by Anna Davis
The Shoe Queen is the story of Genevieve, an English society beauty living in Paris with her American husband Robert in the 1920s...the height of bohemian excess. She has a room full of shoes and becomes obsessed by the desire to have a pair of shoes made by the shoemaking artisan Paolo. He succumbs eventually and they begin an affair.
This is meant to be a love story I guess but it tries to be a bit of everything; psychological examination, journey into the bohemian lifestyle, class and status, obscene wealth, literary and artistic licence, adoration. It draws quite heavily on history with references to Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and many of the main characters are based on people who actually existed; poets, editors, artists. Genevieve's best friend is based on the legendary Kiki - outrageous cabaret performer, lover of Man Ray, artist's model.
This book didn't do it for me apart from providing a glimpse into the bohemian lifestyle of Paris...that was quite interesting. I found it a bit trite, and even the descriptions of the most amazing shoes ever created couldn't make me recommend it to anyone but the most fanatical shoe lover.
Did I enjoy it? I didn't hate it but it will become one of those unmemorable reads very quickly I suspect.
Would I recommend it? Maybe, but with the proviso that it's not all that satisfying a read.
On the book love meter: 4/10
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday
Interesting, quirky but ultimately unsatisfying. This book tells the story of a project masterminded by a Yemeni sheik to introduce salmon fishing into the Yemen as a sign of Allah's magnificence. The main character Dr Alfred Jones is a scientist in a peculiarly loveless marriage (peculiar because it only becomes obvious to him over time when anyone with half a brain could tell that it's a disaster) who at first ridicules then embraces the project. It has politics (the British PM becomes a key player and a major part of the book's climax), science (which was actually quite interesting even if you don't like fishing or fish), Western-Arab tensions, unrequited love, morality, faith, self discovery...
The book is written in the form of emails, interviews, letters and Fred's journal.
It all seemed a bit of a cliche to me but having said that I didn't hate it. I don't think it lived up to my expectations though.
Did I enjoy it: some, but not all of it
Would I recommend it: yes, but not to everyone
On the book love meter: 6.5/10
Slow Love: how I lost my job, put on my pajamas & found happiness by Dominique Browning
What can I say...I read this in less than a day. A day that included wrestling the last of the wretched honeysuckle vine out of the ground, having a mid-morning nap (such a rarity!), flinging some things in the slow cooker, cleaning the kitchen, doing a load of washing, and thinking about, but not quite starting a painting.
I was enthralled from the first word. Dominique Browning was the editor of U.S. House and Garden for 13 years when she and her staff found themselves out of a job. I don't think I can be blamed for not knowing who she was...international home magazines are expensive in Australia and my magazine addiction never quite made it to this publication. Her story is moving, a little sad in places and ultimately inspiring and uplifting. I found much to connect with in my own life (without the job loss) and I suspect this is why I loved it so much. But there are life lessons here as well; the incredible futility of unsuitable relationships and how we cling to them, the angst of the working mother, the quiet beauty of tending a garden or cooking, solitude...how it's not all bad. And most of all...the need to slow down and live.
Did I enjoy it: yes, very much
Would I recommend it: for women of all ages
On the book love meter: 9/10 (perhaps a smidge more!)Oh...and she has a blog...find it here http://www.slowlovelife.com/
This Body of Death by Elizabeth George
A whopping 594 pages of typical Elizabeth George style. I raced through this in under a week...which is what I normally would have done before blogging began, so I'm glad I can still do it!
Inspector Lynley is on compassionate leave after the murder of his wife when he's called in by his want-to-be replacement to help her with a murder case. There are two stories intertwined in this book and I must confess it took me a little while to make the connection...but make it I did before it was revealed on the page...phewee, haven't lost all my brain cells!
As a huge fan of this series...I've read them all...I wasn't disappointed. The relationship between Lynley and his sidekick Havers has shifted but the binds that tie them together in a literary sense are still there.
Did I enjoy it? Yes indeedy
Would I recommend it? Yes, you don't need to have read any of the others but it does add to your understanding of these finely described characters.
On the book love meter: 8.5/1012 July
The Geography of Love by Glenda Burgess.
As I suspected, this book was sad, but rather beautiful nonetheless. A memoir, a love story, an examination of relationships...good, bad and indifferent. Mother/daughter; husband/wife; brother/sister; father/son and more. Estranged lives and lives of people firmly and lovingly entwined. Death and birth. Joy and sadness, not necessarily in equal measure. Well written and told as matter of factly as it could be. Neither maudlin nor syrupy (ok, sometimes a bit schmalzy).
Did I enjoy it? Yes.
Would I recommend it? Yes.
On the book love meter: 7/10